Since the coronavirus pandemic erupted last year, PolitiFact has fact-checked hundreds of misleading statements about the development, deployment, content, safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. Even as the U.S. sees a rise in cases among unvaccinated populations, the unsupported claims keep coming.
False narratives that the vaccines are mandatory and that they result in widespread death more than doubled across social media, broadcast and traditional media, and online sites over the past three months, according to Zignal Labs Inc., a media intelligence firm.
“Every adult can get it, so of course every adult is in the potential audience for misinformation,” said John Gregory, deputy health editor at NewsGuard, a firm tracking online misinformation.
Hundreds of anti-vaccine groups remain active on Facebook, and one watchdog group found that 12 online influencers were behind 65% of the anti-vaccine misinformation on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. False claims are frequently boosted by politicians and pundits, too.
People who get their news from conservative media are more likely to believe misinformation about the vaccines, according to a recent survey from the University of Pennsylvania. On Fox News, for example, recent calls by some hosts to get vaccinated came against the backdrop of months of skepticism and misleading claims from the likes of Tucker Carlson.
Here are 10 persistent falsehoods we have seen, and our related fact checks.
“Maybe (the COVID-19 vaccine) doesn’t work, and they’re simply not telling you that,” Carlson said in April, citing government advice to continue taking certain precautions. PolitiFact rated that Pants on Fire.
Clinical trials and real-world studies proved the vaccines are safe and effective at protecting against infections and severe symptoms. As vaccinations ramped up in the spring, cases and hospitalizations went down. Public health officials now say 99.5% of COVID-19 deaths in the past few months have been among unvaccinated people. Our fact-checking has found that:
The U.S. allowed emergency use of three different vaccines after clinical trials involving tens of thousands of participants showed they were safe and effective. But false and misleading claims about the vaccines’ development still circulated, including:
- A blog post that claimed the Food and Drug Administration said Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine killed two trial participants. That’s not what happened.
- A local politician’s Pants on Fire claim that the vaccines couldn’t possibly be safe because they were developed so quickly.
- A pair of Instagram posts that claimed vaccine developers skipped animal and human trials, False and False.
- Claims that the FDA never signed off on the vaccines, even though the agency allowed three for emergency use. And, no, it wasn’t Fauci’s wife who gave the green light.
- A False internet rumor that said Moderna developed the vaccine in 2019.
- A post that claimed Fauci invested millions of dollars in the shots. There’s no evidence of that.
Colleges and businesses can require vaccinations as a condition of entrance or employment, despite online posts claiming that’s illegal. Businesses are not barred by health information privacy laws from asking customers about vaccinations, either.
But social media users and influencers have continued to warn without evidence that the White House will be making the vaccines mandatory. The White House has not announced any such plans, and as the federal government has little authority to require vaccinations.
- A federal law Facebook users warned about in 2020 never materialized.
- Biden did not promote mandatory vaccinations in a March address, despite one conservative commentator’s claim in a Facebook Live video.
- A national door-to-door effort to inform unvaccinated Americans of their options does not involve federal employees forcing people to get the shots.
Baseless claims about COVID-19 vaccines containing microchips were circulating well before the vaccines existed — even though that’s not physically possible.
As Dr. Paul Offit, chair of vaccinology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, pointed out: “A microchip is about 0.5 inch long. That wouldn’t fit through the end of a needle.” Also:
But conspiratorial claims abound:
- Gates isn’t fighting to keep the ingredients secret. They’re already public.
- The vaccines do not contain aluminum, metals or other materials that a magnet could interact with, despite false claims and videos purporting to show otherwise.
- The vaccines do not contain toxic ingredients that are more dangerous than COVID-19.
- The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine allowed in parts of Europe does not contain aborted fetal tissue.
- Moderna’s vaccine does not include an ingredient “for research use only,” and Pfizer’s does not contain graphene oxide, as two Instagram videos claimed.
- There is no plot to kill people with vaccines full of saline, which is used to dilute the Pfizer vaccine before it is injected.
The COVID-19 vaccines are known to cause some temporary side effects, such as fatigue. But widespread death and serious disease? Such claims often trace back to an unverified federal database that has become a breeding ground for anti-vaccine misinformation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrote as of July 21 that based on its review of all information for death reports in the database, there remains no “causal link” to the vaccines.
- Rapper DMX died of a heart attack, not the vaccine.
- Baseball legend Hank Aaron died from natural causes, not the vaccine.
- Boxer Marvelous Marvin Hagler died from natural causes, not the vaccine.
- Social media claims that four British Airways pilots, five JetBlue crew members, and an Ohio doctor died from the vaccines are False. A video of a nurse becoming dizzy after her shot lacked context and was not indicative of something dangerous in the vaccine.
- Danish soccer player Christian Eriksen’s on-field collapse in June was not due to the vaccine. His professional club said he hadn’t received a shot.
The COVID-19 vaccines don’t alter people’s DNA.
The available vaccines use different technologies to instruct cells to build protection against the virus. But no genetic material enters the part of the cell that hosts DNA, per the CDC.
And the shots definitely don’t replace DNA with genetic coding that makes people “cooperate with the New World Order,” as one Pants on Fire Instagram post claimed.
Online rumors linking the vaccines to pregnancy and fertility complications are unsupported. Studies are ongoing, and the CDC says on its website:
“There is currently no evidence that COVID-19 vaccination causes any problems with pregnancy, including the development of the placenta. In addition, there is no evidence that female or male fertility problems are a side effect of any vaccine.”
Some false claims about fertility are premised on the idea that a spike protein generated after vaccination resembles a protein on placental cells. But the two proteins aren’t similar enough to confuse the immune system into attacking the placental cells, PolitiFact reported.
- Public health officials have not cautioned against getting pregnant after vaccination.
- The vaccines did not cause a 366% increase in United Kingdom miscarriages over six weeks in March.
- There is no evidence that the vaccines caused hundreds of miscarriages, and an online rumor about an “82% miscarriage rate” misrepresented a study’s preliminary data.
- A study did not show that the vaccine affects sperm production.
The vaccines do not “shed” to affect unvaccinated people. In fact, that’s biologically impossible.
Such shedding can only occur with vaccines that use weakened forms of the virus, according to the CDC. But none of the COVID-19 shots are live-virus vaccines.
This article was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for these fact checks here and more of their fact checks here.